A first in Greece: ‘Orlando Furioso’

The great success of the National Opera’s performance of «Xerxes» last January proved that with careful selection, the company can rise to the challenge of baroque opera even though it has little experience in it. Continuing its efforts with works from that period, the company now presents a new production (premiering in Greece tomorrow), Antonio Vivaldi’s «Orlando Furioso.» The title role will be performed by mezzo-soprano Marita Paparizou, the orchestra conducted by Vassilis Christopoulos with stage direction by Maria Gyparaki. Gyparaki and Christopoulos spoke to Kathimerini about the production. How decisive is the visual presentation of a baroque opera nowadays? Gyparaki: Wholly decisive. In contrast to 19th century opera, baroque is very theatrical. It’s possible to work with the singers as if they are appearing in a play. Furthermore, as was true of Vivaldi’s time, the libretto needs to be complemented by the aesthetics of the production. How easy is it for us to understand the principles of the baroque period? Gyparaki: In relation to the art of other periods, baroque is very flexible. It can be rebuilt, remolded, both in terms of its music and its script. For example, the recitativi are as flexible as jazz. If one wants to include an element of the present in the performance, it can be done. Do you find that the intensely stylized elements of baroque opera may seem a bit far-fetched today? Gyparaki: Absolutely, but I don’t believe in making the production completely stylized. I think that can be dangerous. Furthermore, I don’t think that a completely stylized production would stand up in Greece because we are not educated in the codes. The country did not experience the Renaissance, did not go through the 18th century the way the rest of Europe did, and the codes of those times are a closed book to us. What does the complexity of the action mean to us today and how easy is it for us to understand it? On a first reading, it might resemble television soap operas, but they are shallow; they are just what you see. In contrast, baroque opera develops in a spiraling narrative, there is a sense of time moving in a direction with no end. It is a bit like Hitchcock’s films, like «Vertigo» for example, where the seed from which the whole story grows keeps gaining depth. If the audience surrenders to the suspense of baroque opera, everything will be just fine. Where does «Orlando Furioso» take place? Gyparaki: In order to best render the fantastical elements of the original opera, while simultaneously avoiding the realism which would have been out of place today, set designer Francesco Zito and I decided to create a magical world, a fairy tale-like element. The entire performance is set in a cabinet de curiosite, a «magic box» of mirrors. What is it that makes this opera interesting? Gyparaki: First of all, the libretto, which is based – somewhat loosely – on the poem of the same name by Ludovico Ariosto (1474-1533). Of course, in the opera, the Renaissance element has been adapted to the baroque period, to the times of Vivaldi. It renders the frenetic atmosphere of Venice during the carnival. How close to a young man (of 27) such as yourself is the baroque period? Christopoulos: I think it is distant from anyone who lives in the 21st century, young or old. The further we get from our own period, the harder understanding becomes. Understanding baroque from a musical point of view takes a lot of research into music and history. What are the musical characteristics of «Orlando Furioso?» Christopoulos: Figuratively speaking, I would say that there are two main characters on which the plot is centered: the Christian hero Orlando, and the evil sorceress Alcina. Gyparaki: It is like a battle between good and evil. Christopoulos: About 15 years prior to this opera, Vivaldi had tried to develop this theme in another opera, «Orlando Finto Pazzo,» but it was not very successful. He obviously tackled the theme again because he thought it of great importance. He kept quite a few arias from the older opera, reworked others and added a few new ones. Basically, the second opera was a distillation of the first, a more mature work that avoided the mistakes the composer saw in the older one. The end result must have seemed very modern in his time. There are many elements peculiar to the opera, of which the most important are the recitativi, in which the plot unfolds, and the fact that the lead role does not have the most arias. Why should anyone see the production? Christopoulos: Because it is an opportunity to see that there is a Vivaldi beyond «The Four Seasons» and because baroque opera is very rarely seen in Greece. From Venice in 1727 to Athens in 2003 Antonio Vivaldi’s «Orlando Furioso» is set to the libretto by Grazio Braccioli and based on the poem by Ludovico Ariosto, written between 1516-1532. It premiered at Venice’s Teatro Sant’ Angelo in the fall of 1727. The National Opera Orchestra will be conducted by Vassilis Christopoulos, stage direction is by Maria Gyparaki and sets and costumes are designed by Francesco Zito. Lighting effects are by Philippos Koutsaftis. The title role will be performed by Marita Paparizou and the sorceress Alcina by Marina Fideli. Medoro will be performed by Margarita Sygeniotou, Angelica by Mata Katsouli, Ruggiero by Nikos Spanos and Bradamante by Mary-Elen Nezi. The Greek premiere of the production will take place tomorrow and further performances will be held on Sunday and January 15, 17 and 19, at the Olympia Theater, 59 Academias, tel 210.361.1516.